Five years ago today, on the Easter Vigil, I entered into communion with the Church that Christ founded upon Peter and the Apostles. One of the points of reflection that led me to Holy Mother Church was the words I said every Sunday as an Anglican in reciting the Nicene Creed: We believe in One Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. By that Vigil five years ago, I was convinced that these four marks could only have their locus in one place. Today, I am more certain about that than ever!
Jesus Christ founded only one Church. In his high priestly prayer in the Gospel of John, he prayed for that Church’s unity. In the sixteenth chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, we see the institution of the source for preserving that unity: St. Peter. Christ in his wisdom knew that if his Kingdom was to survive “to the close of the age” there had to be an authoritative principle of unity. Otherwise, chaos would ensue. We see this in the splintering of Protestantism into thousands of different sects, each claiming that the individual is his own source of authority. I saw it five years ago in the Anglican Church when the Archbishop of Canterbury was powerless to discipline Anglican provinces that were sliding into moral decay because he was no more than a figurehead who could only “recommend” that they adhere to traditional Christianity. Yet, Christ gave the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven only to Peter (these keys are passed down to his successors. Cf. the OT background to Christ’s actions in Isaiah 22:15-25).
“Ubi Petrus, ibi Ecclesia” –St. Ambrose, Commentary on Twelve Psalms of David.
The Church is made up of sinners, yes. But the Church herself, as the Bride of Christ, is pure and spotless. She is guided by the Holy Spirit into all truth. One of the most compelling arguments for the truth of the Catholic Church for me is the holiness of her saints: sinners who have perfected themselves in this life so as to conform themselves through meritorious suffering into the likeness of our Lord. No institution would produce the caliber of holy men and women that the Catholic Church has if it were not guided by God. Take a look, for example, at Sts. Ignatius, Polycarp, Augustine, Monica, Francis, Dominic, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Thomas Aquinas, Therese of Lisieux, Bl. John Paul the Great, etc. The lowest saint of the Catholic Church far surpasses the holiness found outside of her.
“Catholic” in Latin means “universal.” That is what the Church truly is. In every corner of the world you will find the Catholic Church. The first person to describe Christ’s Church as “Catholic” was Ignatius of Antioch in his Epistle to the Smyrnaeans:
“Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.”
As an Anglican, it would often be quickly noted that the “C” of “Catholic” in the Creed is a small-C. However, that is absurd, since when Ignatius first used the word, he did not make a distinction. He didn’t have to. There was only One Church around and that was the Holy Roman Catholic Church. Where did Ignatius say we could find this Catholic Church? Wherever the bishop was, that was where the Church was. But who was a true bishop? One who was in union with the Pontiff of Rome, the Pope.
The Church is Apostolic because it is founded by Christ on Peter and the Apostles. No other contender to the title of Christ’s “Church” can make this claim. All other bodies were founded by men, not on Apostles, and far removed from Apostolic times. Another aspect of the Church being Apostolic is that it has Apostolic Succession, which is the passing down of the laying on of hands in an unbroken line from the Apostles to the Bishops and priests of today. No other body has Apostolic Succession, which is necessary for the valid celebration of the sacraments (the only exception, of course, is the Eastern Orthodox Churches due to their preservation of the sacrament of holy orders when they entered into schism). In a sense it is like a spiritual family tree. If a priest or bishop wanted to, he could trace his laying on of hands all the way back to one of the Apostles and back to Christ, Himself!
As a high-church Anglican who considered the Anglican priesthood, I was unaware that the Anglican Church did not possess valid sacraments because it did not have Apostolic Succession, and therefore did not have a valid priesthood. This can be a particularly hard teaching for Anglicans (especially those who are Anglican priests) to accept. I would encourage all Anglicans to read both Sir Joseph Pope’s Why I Became A Catholic and Leo XIII’s Apostolicae Curae.
However, it wasn’t solely my reflection on the words of the Nicene Creed that caused me to see that the Catholic Church was the one Church founded by Christ. It was also due to my reading of the Church Fathers. I echo the words of Bl. John Henry Newman, fellow convert from Anglicanism:
"I...take my stand upon the Fathers, and do not mean to budge. The history of their times is not yet an old almanac to me...The Fathers made me a Catholic."